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Unit information: The Rhythms of Life in 2020/21

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Unit name The Rhythms of Life
Unit code PHPH30027
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Piggins
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences


Principally, to (a) introduce students to the study of biological timekeeping, (b) examine how neural mechanisms of circadian rhythms, arousal, and sleep interact to coordinate behaviour and physiology.

Through this unit, students should be able to:

1. Understand the neural and molecular bases for circadian rhythmicity in both simple and complex neural systems

2. Explain how physiology and behaviour changes from day to night, from summer to winter.

3. Describe how brain state changes across the sleep-wake cycle and the importance of these different states in cognitive performance and brain health.

4. Describe the neural and genetic bases for sleep and arousal disorders.

5. Describe how environmental light information is captured by the eye and relayed to circadian centres in the brain and the influence of this light information on sleep and physiology.

6. Describe how circadian clocks develop in the brain and how they decline with age.

7. Develop an understanding of how biological timekeeping mechanisms evolved and how they influence many facets of physiology and behaviour.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students should be able to:

  1. Communicate clearly in writing on specialised areas of the neurobiology of circadian rhythms at the level of the current research literature (A5, C1).
  2. Give account of common biomedical techniques and concepts (A6).
  3. Synthesise, understand and summarise information from a variety of sources, primarily scientific papers (B1).
  4. Interpret and manipulate experimental data (B3).
  5. Apply critical thinking to published scientific papers and evaluate their content (B4).
  6. Apply scientific method (B5).
  7. Retrieve and manage information, making appropriate use of library and web-based facilities (C4).

Teaching details

Seminars (23)

Data interpretation workshop (2hrs)

Q&A revision session (3hrs)

Assessment Details

Timed assessment 90%

The unit will be assessed through a timed assessment in May/June, which contributes 90% of the unit mark and consists of two sections. In Section A (50%), students will be expected to answer one essay question from a choice of 3, which will assess their knowledge and critical understanding of the field, and their ability to gather information from the primary scientific literature. In Section B (50%), students will be expected to answer one multi-part compulsory question assessing data handling/data interpretation and experimental design skills.

Coursework 10%

The coursework will be either an essay, data interpretation or experimental design question of a similar format to that used in the timed assessment.

Reading and References

Students will be required to read primary research literature to support and expand their understanding of the lecture content. Each lecturer will provide suggested reading lists.